The big red for Nani and the Red Devils? It was the wrong refereeing choice

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We will be fussing and fighting about the monumental decision from Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for a while … so why wait?

Richard Farley already told you his opinion in an earlier ProSoccerTalk post. His verdict: correct choice.

My verdict: Not so much.

The decision that so roiled Sir Alex Ferguson and thousands around fabled Old Trafford, the highly controversial red card to Manchester United’s Nani for connecting chest-high with Real Madrid’s unlucky Alvaro Arbeloa, was far from the most egregious refereeing mistake I’ve ever seen. But it was wrong.

To be sure, going down 10 men is not the only reason Manchester United’s Champions League run is over. Robin van Persie needed to be better around goal. Wayne Rooney, too, on one point-blank volley.

Manchester United sat back too deep in defense after the red. (I mean, Ferguson’s men were still at home.) Plus, Jose Mourinho made the right sub, while Luka Modric and Diego Lopez were difference makers. So credit to Real Madrid.

That said … it was still the wrong refereeing choice.

I’m never one to say the rules should be adjusted for bigger matches. Rules are rules, so the old saw about how a referee “cannot decide a big match” is poppycock in my book.

But …

Big matches do deserve extra caution in rendering such a weighty choice. And they do probably deserve a little more benefit of the doubt.

It’s worth going to the nearside referee’s assistant: “What did you see?”

It’s worth going to the fourth official: “What did you see?”

We didn’t see Cakir doing this, but we don’t know if this critical back-and-forth was being conducted through the headsets. It may have been. Either way, all three should be in 100 percent agreement that this thing amounts to the reddest of reds. And I just do not see how that could be.

Nani’s eyes were on the ball. This was incident of “head hunting.”

Yes it was dangerous, reckless and potentially injurious. It was a poor choice on Nani’s part to fly in so high, so forcefully with a Real Madrid man potentially nearby.

But I don’t see how anyone can make a compelling case that Nani absolutely knew there was a Real man nearby. In this case, being careless, even dangerously so, doesn’t rise to felony level. It’s a bad misdemeanor.

This was no “Nigel de Jong;” that notorious stunt in a huge World Cup 2010 moment was a full-on, from the front, intentional Dutch shoe aimed center mass, horribly dangerous, right in the chest. That’s a red card – only it wasn’t during South African final because too much benefit of the doubt was provided.

This time, not enough was.

Nani deserved a yellow.

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Southampton

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  • Chelsea leads all-time 41W-28D-28L
  • Saints have points in 3 of 5 at Stamford Bridge
  • Southampton winless in four straight league games

Chelsea returns home following an emphatic away win to meet a Southampton side fresh off embarrassment at home (Watch live Saturday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Saints were battered 4-1 at St. Mary’s by former coach Claude Puel, while Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea rebounded from a loss at West Ham by battering Huddersfield Town 4-1 at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Conte was asked to compare Alvaro Morata to club legend Didier Drogba, as the Spanish striker has reportedly been studying footage of the big Ivorian.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

“They are two different players with different characteristics,” he said. “Didier Drogba brought history to this club and he’s a wonderful player, a wonderful striker because he continues to play. He’s a great striker, more powerful than Alvaro but Alvaro, don’t forget, has a lot of space for improvement. He’s strong physically, he’s a technical player and I see a great future for Alvaro.”

Chelsea still won’t have David Luiz available, while Southampton has no new injury concerns despite the recent schedule congestion.

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on Southampton premonitions“‘My expectation is for us to suffer, I have this sensation, so we must pay great attention. When you play after a bad defeat, especially at home, there is great attention of the coach and the club because they don’t want to continue a bad run. They want to give a good answer against a strong team like Chelsea.”

Saints’ Mauricio Pellegrino on facing Chelsea: “We want to show our best version. Chelsea is a really difficult side but maybe we can find more space.  We have to do a really good game to have a possibility of winning, but hopefully after a difficult moment we can bounce back. In this club, we want to show we are committed to trying to be competitive, our energy and commitment to the club.”

Prediction

Saints are wounded, but Chelsea has the better depth and form. Charlie Austin or Sofiane Boufal may force a goal past Thibaut Courtois, but look for the Blues to pull out a 2-1 win.

FIFA suspends Brazilian soccer president Marco Polo del Nero

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has suspended Brazilian soccer federation president Marco Polo del Nero for 90 days while he is under an ethics investigation.

Del Nero has remained in power in Brazil despite being charged by American authorities with racketeering and money laundering in 2015.

FIFA says Del Nero has been provisionally banned from all soccer activities as formal ethics investigation proceedings are conducted.

Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee of soccer’s governing body after missing meetings and was then indicted in the United States in December 2015. He has not been extradited from Brazil to face the charges.

Preview: How can Tottenham stop Man City?

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Can anyone stop Manchester City? Tottenham Hotspur will try this Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) with Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aiming to give the chasing pack some hope that City can be caught.

[ LIVE: Stream Man City v. Spurs

Pep Guardiola‘s men have won 15 consecutive Premier League games to stretch their lead atop the PL to 11 points heading into the busy festive season, but a visit from Spurs represents one of their toughest tests of the season so far.

Spurs currently sit in fourth place in the table but are 18 points behind City.

In team news Man City have no fresh injury concerns as Vincent Kompany could return after missing out at Swansea City in midweek, but John Stones remains out injured.

Tottenham will be missing Victor Wanyama and Toby Alderweireld through injury, while Davinson Sanchez serves the final game of his three-match ban.


What they’re saying

Guardiola on Man City going the entire season unbeaten: “It is not going to happen. We are going to lose games, it belongs to Arsene Wenger. Now what happens is an exception, it’s not normal what we’ve done. We’ll try to maintain it but we are going to lose games. It is important is to play better, that’s important. Records are OK but they stay there and one day they will be broken. We focus on the pitch and try to be better, make chances, concede few. I’m happy with the way we play – although I feel we can do much, much better.”

Pochettino on Man City’s incredible run: “They [Manchester City] are showing that they are not only the best in England but in Europe too with the Champions League. They are playing so well and deserve all the praise. It will be so tough. I think Manchester City deserve all the credit with what they are doing.”

Prediction

Spurs will prove a tough test for a rampant Man City squad and I expect Dele Alli and Harry Kane to cause plenty of problems for a threadbare City defense. 2-2.